Man is unique.
We who call ourselves "man" appear to have some uncanny sense of awareness that is unlike that of any other creature in the animal kingdom, perhaps in the entire universe. From the days of our ancient Egyptian and Mayan brothers, we have been possessed with the desire to reshape mountains and re-direct rivers. Using the "stuff" from which the earth is made, stone, water, wood, leather, minerals, glass and clay, we have constructed magnificent temples, highways, colosseums, houses, barns and sky-scraping buildings of commerce. In recent history, we discovered that energy could be harnessed from nature. From that, we created light. And from the light, we created power. With light and power, we changed night into day. Within this one eternal day we have been able to built engines that convert steam, coal, oil, gas, solar energy, electricity and sub-atomic particles into work. For our comfort and convenience, we made great machines with steel and rubber wheels, even more massive vessels with screws and paddles, and light-weight, tube-like containers with wings, seats and engines so powerful that we can now travel "over the meadows and through the woods, to grandmother's house..." or even to China if we wish, in terms referenced to the number of miles traveled in one hour, one minute, one second, or indexed to the speeds of sound or light.
More recently, man has delved beyond the limits of the lifeline that binds us to our own sphere. We have successfully defied gravity and the earth's atmosphere to physically travel to lands and planet surfaces beyond our own, especially to the place we call our "moon." Further, we have sent robots to explore the fastness of our own universe by conducting flying-by, photographing and sometimes landing, roaming and digging about on other planetary systems within our own solar system. Over wide expanses of air and space, and at the speed of light, we are able to convey signals over metal wires, optical lines or wirelessly through space, and are able to receive and translate these signals in the form of graphic pictures, sounds and printed words. We dress in clothes fabricated of infinite patterns, styles and fabrics, natural and man-made. Importantly, we have learned to express ourselves in many ways through the various crafts and arts. Generally, we work and play in atypical non-animal ways. Magically, man seems even to have mastered the untouchable "time" constant by employing principles of time-organization. What other living creatures have discovered such a unique way of doing such things?
With a curious zeal to better understand our own existence, we often go far out of our way to discover who we are, where we have come from and where we might be going. Why? It seems inborn in us, this insatiable need to know, not just for now but from our earliest beginnings to the present. We need to go as far back as is possible so that we might be able to predict, with some degree of accuracy, where we will someday be in the future. Religions and the sciences placate our curiosity with stories of deity or tangible evidence, collected for study and display. Some people place more credence in the holy writ and hold tightly to it, while others feel more content to examine ancient fossils, footprints and petrified bones.
In truth, the best long-term explanations about our ancient counterparts can be found in the paintings, sculpture, crafts, tools of utility, language and architectural evidence left behind. These are the building blocks of civilization we most commonly refer to as "culture." They are also best known as "the arts."
An important question to ask is: where and when did decoration and utility first meet? From the beginning, I suppose. Some uncanny thing about man likes things that feel and look good. Those things are considered.... beautiful. Yet, if utility is necessary and functional, are not arts only impractical and imaginative? No. They are truly one-in-the-same thing. While today's utilitarian effort gets used up and disappears, artistic creations and conceptual values survive. In a cultured society, the arts tend to grow more important over time. For example: an ancient knife made of obsidian and antler may be even more appreciated as a work of art today than it was when it was created for its original utility. How does that work? The blade was constructed to provide meat for the body. After its original creator and utilitarian purpose disappeared, it gained another; and in some museum of ancient artifacts, its existance now feeds that part of the brain that loves aesthetic things. So, a utilitarian value has been replaced by an aesthetic value. The body is mental and physical. It requires thought and care. The part of a man's makeup sometime referred to as spiritseems to be a secret something involving both a physical body and intuitive emotional impulses the motivate actions. Could it safely be said then that this is what constitutes man? Is the soul simply a combination of the body's constant need for nurturing to survive coupled to an aesthetic spirit which has no beginning, middle or end? If this is true, it only seems logical and prudent that the spirit of man drives his utilitarian instincts beyond his or her mere animalistic tendencies. Further, it appears that wise stewardship over one's natural gifts and talents leads to a higher perfection and preservation of the species.
Undeniably, the arts have become the universal language, even more so than any written text. Remember, a word is an invention, a symbol for an idea. Written text began as an artistic representation of a thought or event. A perfect example of the evolution of thought can be observed in the universality of symbols depicted in the great monuments, relief sculptures, murals and hieroglyphic characters produced by the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Meso Europeans, Africans, natives of the Americas, Australian aborigines and ancients of India. In examples of these cultures, graphic symbols were used to represent "words," or word-pictures that, in an organized format, represented complete concepts of thought, material things, specific people, actions and events. As one reaches back to capture a picture of events that surrounded the birth, life and death of a civilization, there can be found no greater examples to study than the marvelous colored panels painted in the Caves of Lascaux, the giant carved heads on Easter Island, Stonehenge, the sculptured temples, walls and symbols of the Mayans and Aztecs and the totems and petroglyphs of ancient inhabitants of America. Primitive? We sophisticates often show our ignorance by thinking so, that is, until we look more closely.
While most professions might be considered more utilitarian than aesthetic, engineers could not function without drawings, doctors without x-rays and anatomical drawings, or even taxi drivers and pilots without a graphical representation of a complex matrix of city streets and highways in the sky. Thus, in everyday life, the arts have become just as utilitarian as the sciences. We just don't think about it. When one studies the structure of the universe, it becomes abundantly clear: the sciences are as aesthetic as the arts, and the arts are as practical as the sciences. Thus, they are different--but the same. "Form follows function" is the famous line describing the perfect melding of utility and beauty.
A drawing might be defined as a linear two-dimensional depiction of what the eye and brain sees or feels and is usually represented as a series of lines or shaded patterns. Truly, "A line in the sand" supersedes all language barriers, particularly when there is no mistake in the translation. A simple line drawn by a finger or a stick could be made to say: "This is a demarcation point across which no unauthorized person should cross."
Can a line be so important? . . . . or an "X," as a result of someone's having crossed the line?
A painting is a colored drawing.
Sculpture is a form shaped in three dimensions. In German, the word bildhouer, means picture banger. However, unlike drawing and painting, sculpture does not normally contain lines, per se. Traditional sculpture is generally a representation of tangible or intangible objects as they might appear in nature. As various 3-dimensional shapes that compose a piece of sculpture morph and meld together, they may cause a perception of lines to the viewer, even where lines do not exist. It is exceedingly tempting for the beginner to create a general form of an object and then fall back into the conventional habit of trying ro refine the work by simply drawing lines on the surface. Sculpture in its truest sense is understanding how to refine the forms, rather than lines. For example: When we draw a horse, we draw a line, or an edge around which the rest of the horse is hidden from view. In sculpture, the horse has no edges, but instead, is composed of a series of edgeless shapes all fitting together into a single unified form. When I teach sculpture, my students are often shocked to hear that there are very few "lines" in nature, although that is how we interpret form in 2-dimensional drawings. What appears to the eye as a line, is something very different when looked at closely enough. The secret of creating great art is learning how to see.
As a sculptor, I see myself as a boy who never grew up, someone who spends every day searching in the mud for lost treasures; treasures of my own creation. Am I any good at finding them? That is not for me to answer, but for you to decide . . . . and your children . . . . and their children, and so on.
We are all dreamers, but artists are particularly so. Most people act surprised when they learn that artists can also be utilitarian. True artists are curious about everything. They constantly analyze and seek to understand all materials and their various limitations. An insatiable appetite for knowledge guides the artist in his quest for experience and understanding. A thorough knowledge of aerial and linear perspective, a complete understanding of color values and saturation, the existance or absence of light, anatomy, proportion, design, texture, transparent vs. opaque, warm vs. cool, etc,; the chemistry from which paints are created, which includes the organic and inorganic substances from which paints or sculptural forms and decorations can be created, are studies absolutely essential to the accomplished artist. After that, what makes art poor or great is the artist's ability to blend the technical with the intuitive, the physical with the spiritual, truth with fiction.
That is the secret of art.
Art is the supreme communicator of diverse cultures and ideas in a common frame of understanding, a virtual bridge across time. It is also the universal link into genius. Unlike other animals whose basic senses seem strictly limited to survival and procreation, man is different: An artist forever strives to elevate his own senses of touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell and voice, and then directs their energy into the branch of culinary arts, music, literature, dance, drama, painting, drawing and sculpture according to his or her heart's desire. The hope is that this will lead to loftier purposes of thought, understanding, inspiration, talent, creation and re-creation for everyone.
Some people ask why, when I have seemingly developed such great success as a sculptor, should I jeopardize my entire career as an artist by turning to the field of invention. My answer is: the sciences and the arts are one and the same. Some think it unusual that Leonardo daVinci and Michelangelo had so many seemingly diverse talents. In their day, they were not only expected to decorate their villages with the most outstanding artistic creations of their day, but they were also called upon to design their fortifications and invent new weapons of war. In Michelangelo's case, he studied anatomy in secret by candlelight. The penalty for mutilating a human cadaver, even to study it, was death. Had he been caught, that is precisely what would have happened to him. When Michelangelo created sculptures of the Medici brothers for the Medici Tomb, he represented drapery and armor as a natural extension of the human form, something never done before but something which looked more correct than that which actually existed in nature. He considered himself neither painter nor architect, yet, when called upon to do so, he created examples of fresco painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and solved the greatest architectural puzzle or his time, i.e.; completion of the sacred Renaissance free-standing dome capping Saint Peter's Cathedral. Though 500 years have passed away, Michelangelo's feats remain unsurpassed in modern history. It is said that Michelangelo stated, "The trouble with sculpture is, you have to know all the crafts . . . better than the craftsmen."
One of my obtuse college professors once told me that we know more about design today than Michelangelo knew about design in his day. He was dead wrong.
Likewise, Leonardo was a consummate anatomist, painter and inventor. He painted the most important smile in history, invented far superior weapons of war during his lifetime than anyone else, made machines that ran on water and foresaw the practicality of manned flight. Amazing, isn't it? And how could it be that Michelangelo and Leonardo lived in the same time and in the same town?
Rembrandt painted simple ideas on canvas using a limited pallet and a few carefully chosen colors. With those tools, he produced not light, but a perfect illusion of light. His paintings stand alone in power, spirit and understanding of light, above all other painters in history.
So, what is this legecy called art? It is to do good. Its purpose is to communicate, edify and inspire a man to see beyond himself. Art is real, and imaginary, two worlds rolled into one, the fulfillment of the artist's insatiable soul. EJF
Note: I have my own sculpture studio, enlarging facility and foundry and a skilled staff of artisans. Managed by my son, Ted, the rest of the crew includes Zak Nyberg, Gary Hall, James Avati and my Secretary, Trish Williamson. My gratitude and generous thanks go to you all for making my work a part of your own personal success.
Copyright 1996 © Edward J. Fraughton
(Last edit: 10/10/08)